Mt. Iliamna Coughs Up Some Secrets

Working with the team members of the Alaska Volcano Observatory team as they studied Mt. Iliamna was not only a learning experience but we walked away with new friends.

Mt. Iliamna

This season found Theresa and I back in Alaska at the Snug Harbor Cannery to support the AVO team while they studied Mt. Iliamna.

Mt. Iliamna volcano is a broad, deeply dissected and highly altered, roughly cone-shaped mountain at the north end of a 5-km-long ridge. Most of the volcano is covered by perennial snow and ice. Numerous glaciers radiate from the summit area and large avalanche deposits occur on the flanks of the volcano, particularly down the Umbrella Glacier on the southwest side of Mt. Iliamna.

According to the team, Mt. Iliamna is one of the least active in Alaska and as such one of the least studied. But that was all to change during the two weeks we were all on the island. Unusually warm and dry weather resulted in the team being able to fly out in the field every single day. Not once did they have to scrub flights due to weather.

timber tracking

The Timber Tracking Project, was originally all set to go forward this spring, but we all know what happened instead; collecting was suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, permits have been cleared for this summer and we’ll be out sampling practicing the best kind of social distancing. Now it’s all about looking at topo maps and choosing collection zones. Follow our updates from the field on twitter.

Alaska Volcano Observatory

The AVO is staffed by 22 full-time scientists, technicians, and administrators. However, they weren’t the only ones that came out during the two-week study. There were volcanologists from Colorado and southern California that also came out for a portion of that time.

The AVO is responsible for assessing the full range of potential hazards at specific volcanic centers. This effort involves studying a volcano to determine the style and frequency of past eruptions and the potential impacts of future activity. Hazards assessments include descriptions of the history of a given volcano, explanations of likely eruption scenarios, and determination of probable impact zones for the range of expected hazards.

Each person or small team were there to study a different aspect of the Mt. Iliamna volcano. One of the most interesting, and just plain geeky, was measuring differences in the gravitational pull around the volcano to find magma dooms.

Working with the team members of the Alaska Volcano Observatory team as they studied Mt. Iliamna was not only a learning experience but we walked away with new friends.

Working with the team members of the Alaska Volcano Observatory team as they studied Mt. Iliamna was not only a learning experience but we walked away with new friends.

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Snug Harbor Outpost

The usual suspects were all present at the Cannery this year and it’s always good to come ‘home’ and rekindle relationships. We swapped stories about engagements, passings, man overboard and the usual, “You won’t believe this…” stories.

climate change

The cannery looked much the same despite this being her centennial year. The biggest issue we had to contend with this year was that the waterfall we rely on for our freshwater was just about running dry. 

The same weather that allowed the AVO to conduct such a rapid assessment of Mt. Iliamna was also threatening to dry our water source.

This forced us to rig a storage system and pump to make sure we had the necessary water for daily use. I’ve only been going to the island for about 10 years, but those who have been coming out for decades mentioned that this was the first time they had seen the waterfall just about dried out.

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